The ambition to make a difference and change lives through a major perception shift about Paisley was inspiring. This was a highly-integrated campaign using traditional and digital media, engaging both local people and celebrity influencers. Despite ultimately not winning the City of Culture bid, the clarity around long-term objectives has created a powerful legacy for the community and the role of public relations as a strategic function within Renfrewshire Council. The cited endorsement from the Scottish Government that the campaign achieved what it had not been able to do for decades in revitalising Paisley was compelling.

Mark of Excellence:

  • Richmond & Towers and The Postal Museum
    Launching The Postal Museum and Mail Rail

Finalists:

  • Channel 4 Press & Publicity and Console PR
    The Great British Bake Off
  • Hull City Council
    Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
  • Ready10
    Bale’s Bust: recreating THAT statue for Paddy Power
  • Ready10
    Jonathan Rea (almost) wins BBC Sports Personality

Winner entry:

Brief and objectives:

Paisley is known around the world for its one-time role at the heart of the world’s textile industry – but its recent history is more notable for deprivation and decline.As part of a wider plan to use its unique culture and heritage to transform its future, Paisley bid to be UK City of Culture 2021. The PR campaign behind the bid had these objectives:

  • Raise Paisley’s profile and transform its reputation by showcasing cultural excellence
  • Generate awareness of the bid and an understanding of the benefits, win or not
  • Mobilise a mass network of local people, businesses and key influencers behind Paisley
  • Position Paisley’s bid as Scotland’s bid
  • Show why Paisley’s story matters to the UK and the world
  • Position Paisley as credible hosts of a major year-long UK-wide cultural showcase

Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

The initial Paisley 2021 announcement was met with scepticism locally and further afield. Qualitative research we did in 2016 showed little understanding of why we were bidding and what the bid would achieve – and widespread negativity around our chances.

We also knew Paisley’s external reputation was very poor – but it had punched above its weight historically in terms of global influence and had a fascinating untold story. As the only town bidding, we knew would have to fight harder than others to gain a voice within the competition, and only a sustained and innovative PR effort to build support, transform perceptions, and show why we matter to the world would do that.

Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:

The campaign fell into two phases with different focuses – pre-shortlist (raising awareness and generating support) and post-shortlist (showing Paisley on a national and international stage).

We identified four tiers of audience – local, Scottish, UK and international, segmented them into categories – and mapped them out against key messages aligned to the bid’s five strategic aims (boost the local economy, tackle poverty, make the town a vibrant destination, showcase cultural excellence, and transform reputation).

We created a pitch list of key influencers and target media across the UK, and plotted a series of PR moments around competition milestones, major local events, and celebrity/partner support.

Implementation of tactics:

Pre-shortlist (Jan – July):

  • Commissioned a Lego animation on the town’s history and famous faces – two of whom, actor Gerard Butler and broadcaster Andrew Neil, then publicly backed the bid. Coverage included Guardian and BBC
  • Staged two bid send-off PR events – a mass saxophone rendition of Paisley-born Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street on what would have been his 70th birthday; and 170 local people forming a human Paisley Pattern
  • Initiated a community engagement push where 36,000 people (nearly half the town’s population) interacted with the bid – including a specially-commissioned short story distributed to every local primary school pupil inviting their ideas
  • Signed up more than 200 local businesses as bid backers, and devised bespoke PR moments with major employers, including limited-edition Paisley-Patterned Johnnie Walker bottles (Diageo), and a Paisley-2021-branded truck (WH Malcolm).

Post-shortlist (July – Dec):

  • Attracted UK and international media to the town, facilitating media visits from The Guardian, New York Times, De Telegraaf (Holland), Chinese Weekly and Irish Independent
  • Managed the PR around singer Paolo Nutini’s hometown show in Paisley Abbey, for which 50,000 people applied for tickets. We set up a UK-wide Big Issue cover interview with Paolo and attracted reviewers including NME. Our ticket giveaway post on the Paisley 2021 Facebook reached 1 million people
  • Generated nationwide buzz around the final bid submission through a Scotland-wide photo opp where five internationally-recognised landmarks (including Edinburgh Castle and The Kelpies) lit up in Paisley colours
  • Generated cross-party political backing at the highest levels of government in Edinburgh and London, with a motion supporting the bid backed by all parties at Holyrood, a cross-party photo op at the Houses of Parliament, public support from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and a series of visits/PR ops in the town with politicians including UK Cabinet member David Mundell
  • Helped secure endorsements from influencers including prominent editors Ian Jack and Iain Martin, former government communications director Alastair Campbell, director of the British Museum Neil McGregor, and fashion designer Pam Hogg
  • Co-ordinated widespread UK-wide media interest around the result (announced live on the BBC’s One Show in Hull), including a BBC News at Six profile on Paisley

General:

  • Used the Paisley 2021 social media channels to spark a global conversation about Paisley. Our following rose from 3,508 (Twitter) and 5,647 (Facebook) at the start of the year to 7,659 (Twitter) and 22,839 (Facebook) at the end – by far the biggest of any shortlisted competitor, despite Paisley having by some distance the smallest population, and one achieved almost
    entirely though organic activity
  • Equipped the local community to tell Paisley’s story by coaching key spokespeople; guest blogs on the Paisley 2021 website; and social media toolkits allowing partners to echo our messages

Measurement and evaluation:

  • Print/online media – 212,701,160 reach from 2,483 pieces of coverage
  • Broadcast media – estimated 400 million reach from around 600 pieces of coverage
  • Paisley 2021 website – 405,996 page views from 153,749 users.
  • Paisley 2021 Facebook – 5,995,894 reach / 861,138 engagements.
  • Paisley 2021 Twitter – 8,961,500 / 97,800 engagements
  • Total campaign reach: 628,064,550

We can also measure a clear shift in public attitudes. Independent event audience evaluations carried out by Culture Republic at the Paisley Christmas Lights Switch-on events of November 2016 (408 respondents) and 2017 (385 respondents) showed a change in agreement with the following (defined as a score of eight or up when asked to rank agreement out of 10):

  • I am aware Paisley is bidding to be UK City of Culture 2021 – 85% to 98% *
  • I support the bid for Paisley to become UK City of Culture in 2021 – 76% to 97%
  • Being UK City of Culture would make a positive difference to Paisley – 76% to 95%
  • I am proud of Paisley’s heritage and culture – 73% to 90%

*99.7% of local residents were aware of the bid.